Women at wheel of ‘pink taxis’ challenge Jordan norms

Jordanian female taxi driver Nisrin Akoubeh. (AFP)
Updated 30 December 2016
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Women at wheel of ‘pink taxis’ challenge Jordan norms

AMMAN: Nisrin Akoubeh checks the oil and water before getting into her taxi and pulling into Amman’s heavy traffic for another day of shuttling fellow women across the Jordanian capital. 
The red-haired mother of three works a gruelling 10-hour shift in her taxi — a rare occupation for a woman in this conservative Muslim society.
“I want to break the culture of shame and prove to Arabs and the Arab world that women are strong and are able to work in any area that could be monopolized by men,” she said.
“Women have been able to drive normal cars for a long time, so why shouldn’t they drive taxis?“
Akoubeh is one of a group of women who want to turn taxi driving into an acceptable profession for women, challenging Jordan’s social norms.
The 31-year-old widow and former nurse drives one of a fleet of 10 “Pink Taxis” driven by women ... for women passengers.
Most of their customers are nurses on late shifts, university students or mothers whose children they shuttle to and from nursery or school.
Wearing a pink shirt and blue tie as she navigates Amman’s congested roads, Akoubeh often also picks up visiting Saudi women whose husbands don’t allow them to ride unaccompanied with male taxi drivers.
“I thank God that I have lots of customers,” she said.
Ghena Al-Asmar, a 19-year-old student who often uses the service, said she feels safer riding the women-only cars.
“When I finish my studies at university in the evening or when I leave the house at night, I prefer to take these taxis because it’s a woman taking a woman somewhere,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in a woman working as a taxi driver — it’s a profession like any other profession, and it shouldn’t be limited to men,” she said.
Around half a million women in Jordan have driving licenses, about 20 percent of the country’s total drivers, according to the national traffic department.
Akoubeh said some people give her encouragement but “there is always someone to remind me that ‘this is men’s work and you should be in the home.’“
Jordan is relatively liberal in terms of women’s rights compared to other countries in the region.
But more conservative attitudes are still common.
Mohammad Al-Ahmad, a 50-year-old civil servant, said driving a taxi is not appropriate work for women.
“We live in a conservative Eastern society governed by tribal customs and traditions,” he said.
“There are lots of jobs and professions women can do that fit their abilities and preserve their place in society, without them being seen in a bad light.”
But Eid Abu Al-Haj, head of an investment group behind a company that runs the Pink Taxi service, says encouraging women to drive is a service to society.
“Women are more careful and cause fewer accidents,” he said. “By providing these cars exclusively for women, we are hoping to give women more comfort and privacy.”
The service was launched on March 21, when most of the Arab world marks Mother’s Day.
“We started with five cars just for women, with women drivers, and now we have 10 drivers, between 30 and 45 years old, and we’re hoping to expand soon,” said Abu Al-Haj.
The concept has already been tried and tested in Cairo, another conservative city where women taxi drivers were previously unheard of.
Akoubeh said she has a good salary, health insurance, social security and holidays, and she can choose what hours to work.
Other taxi drivers in Amman say they take home at most 25 dinars ($35, 33 euros) a day after paying a share of their takings to the companies that own the cars.
Driving in Amman is not easy work. Home to four million people and 1.4 million vehicles including over 11,000 taxis, the city is prone to choking congestion.
“It takes a lot of concentration and care, especially during rush hours,” Akoubeh said.
But she enjoys the work.
“I get to know new people every day,” she said. “I enjoy my conversations with them and hearing their stories and experiences.”


After years of silence, music fills streets of Iraq’s Mosul

Renowned Iraqi maestro and cello player Karim Wasfi performs in Mosul’s war-ravaged Old City on November 10, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 48 sec ago
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After years of silence, music fills streets of Iraq’s Mosul

  • The city even has its own special genre of Arabic ballads, recognized across Iraq and beyond
  • Tahsin Haddad, who heads the local artists’ syndicate, said he is keen to support public arts across the province

MOSUL: For centuries, it was a magnet for artists across the region and churned out Iraq’s best musicians — but recent years saw Mosul suffer a devastating musical purge.
For three years until last summer, the sprawling northern city was under the brutal rule of the Daesh group.
In imposing a city-wide ban on playing or even listening to music, the jihadists smashed and torched instruments.
“It was impossible to bring my instrument with me whenever I left the house,” said city resident Fadel Al-Badri, who hid his precious violin from the rampaging fighters.
Foreshadowing IS’ repression, the 2000s saw Al-Qaeda and other groups impose an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam in several districts of the city.
But with Mosul freed from the grip of IS in July 2017, Iraq’s second city is embarking on a musical comeback.
“After the liberation, songs are back where they truly belong in Mosul,” said Badri, welcoming the return of evening celebrations and festivals.
The 45-year old violinist now has the pleasure of playing in public once more to an audience that claps hands and sings along to traditional local tunes.

Mosul has a rich musical history.
It is the home city of Ziryab, a musician who introduced the oud — the oriental lute popular across the Arab world — to Europe in the 9th century.
One of its more recent musical prodigies is Kazem Al-Saher, the Iraqi crooner-turned-talent judge known around the region.
The city even has its own special genre of Arabic ballads, recognized across Iraq and beyond.
From folkloric shows and philharmonic concerts to weddings and other national holidays, song and dance have traditionally filled the streets and surrounding air.
But that meant nothing to IS, which ravaged Mosul’s heritage — musical and otherwise — when it took the city as part of a lightning offensive across Iraq in 2014.
The jihadists began by destroying the statue of celebrated ballad virtuoso Mulla Uthman Al-Mosuli, and then turned their attention to destroying instruments across the city.
IS also forced musicians in Mosul to sign a pledge that they would never play or sing again, which was then posted in public places like mosques.
Singer Ahmed Al-Saher, 33, said it was humiliating.
“I couldn’t leave Mosul after they made me sign because of my sick mother. I had to stay here under all that pressure and fear of the unknown,” he recalled.
Ordinary residents, as well as musicians, are keen to celebrate the return of artistic freedom.
“Terrorism failed in killing Mosulites’ love for art in all forms. It’s been born again, despite the destruction,” said Amneh Al-Hayyali.
The 38-year-old brought her husband, son, and daughter to watch a late-night concert in a cultural center in east Mosul.
“Today, after the dark era of beheadings, lashings, beards and veils being imposed on us... we sing,” she said.

But bringing Mosul’s artistic scene back to its former heyday will not be easy.
Tahsin Haddad, who heads the local artists’ syndicate, said he is keen to support public arts across the province.
“But we are in huge need of support from the central government in Baghdad, especially because Mosul currently has no stages, movie theaters, or art spaces,” he told AFP.
Without these venues, artists play in local cafes and public squares.
Celebrated Iraqi musician Karim Wasfi recently performed in a Mosul park where IS once infamously trained its child soldiers.
Earlier this month, Iraqi artists from around the country swarmed to the city for a cultural festival at Mosul University.
Performers stomped the dabkeh — a traditional Arabic line dance — and painters brought their works to display on the campus.
Glamorous Iraqi artist Adiba traveled from Baghdad with an entourage of peers.
“I am so happy to be in Mosul, singing here after it was freed from the grip” of IS, she said, moments before stepping on stage.
“Artists — Iraqi, Arab, foreign — should all come play festivals here.”